IT Pro Impact: Is Your WLAN Ready For 802.11ac?

Nov 19, 2012


IT Pro Impact: Is Your WLAN Ready For 802.11ac?

802.11 Wi-Fi is today’s preferred network access method, rapidly replacing 802.3 Ethernet at the edge of most LANs. Continuing improvements in wireless LAN reliability, availability, speed and capacity have been crucial to business adoption of “Wi-Fi Certified” products, including client devices (laptops, tablets, smartphones) and ­infrastructure elements (access points and controllers).

Over the years, our WLANs have migrated from IEEE 802.11b (11 Mbps) to 802.11a/g (54 Mbps) to 802.11n (600 Mbps), boosting data rates and increasing network capacity. Today, enterprise WLANs are composed largely of Wi-Fi Certified 802.11n APs containing dual-band 11n radios that use three multiple-input, multiple-output antennas to carry 450 Mbps.

However, explosive client growth and diversity are now posing huge challenges for many enterprise WLANs, as are high-throughput applications like high-density video and wireless backhaul. To slake this ever-growing thirst for speed, the IEEE has been working on a new amendment: 802.11ac “Enhancements for Very High Throughput for operations in bands below 6 GHz.” Wi-Fi Certified draft 11ac products are likely to emerge by mid-2013, ­boosting max data rates above 1 Gbps. By late 2014 or early 2015, products aligned with the final 11ac standard will nudge the Wi-Fi speedometer closer to 7 Gbps.

For WLAN planners and administrators, 11ac promises welcome room for growth by focusing on less-cluttered 5-GHz RF channels, doubling or quadrupling channel widths, using more efficient encoding, doubling max spatial streams and (eventually) letting APs service multiple users simultaneously. Some applications that demand very high throughput will be able to move off wired Ethernet in favor of Gigabit Wi-Fi, while many other applications will benefit from improved rate-over-range and capacity — especially in high-density venues where hundreds of clients compete for scarce airtime.

These benefits are appealing, but they come at a price: yet another WLAN upgrade. To help enterprises take ­advantage of 11ac at the right time, in the right places and in the best possible ways, this report explores what “ac” adds to 802.11 and scenarios that could benefit the most. We’ll look at when enterprise-class Wi-Fi Certified draft and final ac products are likely to ship, and discuss 11ac features that enterprises should look for. Finally, we’ll offer guidance on how to get the most from 11ac while protecting your company’s past WLAN investments. (S6151112)

Research Report